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The Red Lion Public House Elstow

The Red Lion Public House: 47 High Street, Elstow

The Red Lion about 1860 [Z50/43/56]
The Red Lion about 1860 [Z50/43/56]

This old public house was Grade II Listed by the former Ministry of Works, whose architect considered it to be probably 17th century in the rear wing and he noted a date plaque of 1798. The 17th century date, however, may well be an underestimate, unless the property was completely rebuilt since in 1576 Lawrence Kendall of Elstow conveyed to William Gostwick of Elstow a property in Elstow situated between land owned by the former Abbey and the highway to the west and fields to the east. In 1604 Gostwick, then of Enfield [Middlesex] conveyed the property to Robert Hawse or Hawes of Bedford. Four years later the property had become the "Redd Lyon" when Hawes conveyed it to William Dymocke of Elstow, yeoman; it is clearly the same property because both in 1604 and 1608 the tenement of Edmond Deane abutted south and that of John Cock north. In 1615 Dymocke conveyed the Red Lion to John Newolde of Elstow, husbandman for £63. That particular run of deeds [AD346] ends at that point.

Sixteen years later another run of deeds of the Red Lion begins. By that date Newolde was calling himself an innkeeper and he purchased half an acre of land in Elstow from Edmund Cranfield . In 1701 John Newold of Elstow, innkeeper [presumably grandson, or similar, of the previous John Newolde] conveyed the Red Lion to trustees as part of a marriage settlement with his intended wife Hannah Green [W2925]. When he was writing his will in 1708 he devised the inn to his son John [W2926]; he died in 1715.

John Newold junior wrote his will in 1724 and devised the Red Lion and his other properties to trustees for his wife Elizabeth to enable her to raise their two children; he died in the same year [W2929]. John's son was yet another John and he mortgaged the inn to Francis Walker of Bedford in 1750 for £100 [W2931]. The mortgage was assigned to Peter Johnson of Elstow in 1753 [W2934]. This John Newold died in 1777 and the inn passed to his son, predictably also called John who promptly sold the public house and adjoining land to Benjamin Palmer for £340 [W2937].

Three years later Benjamin Palmer sold the Red Lion to James Palmer for £240 [W2941-2942]. Somewhat strangely, four years later James conveyed the Red Lion back to Benjamin in exchange for an annuity of £20 per annum and a covenant that after James' death a quarter of the estate would pass to Henry Whittingstall and a quarter to James Whittingstall and half to William Long, all Bedford brewers who became partners around that time [W2943-2944]. In 1796 James Whittingstall conveyed the Red Lion and its one acre close to Samuel Whitbread for £240 [W2946-2947].

The Red Lion was once the scene of an unfortunate altercation as this florid article from the Bedfordshire Times of 8 Sep 1855 reveals: "RED LION, ELSTOW – The Superintendent said he had been directed by the magistrates to mention certain little matters connected with this inn. On last Boxing Day Mr Tucker had a shooting match on his ground, at which a great number of persons attended. In the course of the day a great row ensued, the parish constable and other parties were assaulted, for which the offenders were summoned before this bench and fined. In justice to Mr Tucker, he was bound to say that the house had been well conducted since, he had no complaint whatever against it; and Mr T could only account for the row on the occasion referred to from the circumstance of having advertised in the local papers, which he very much regretted. Mr Tucker begged to correct the latter part of the statement of the worthy deputy chief. He was thoroughly convinced that low vulgar blackguards were not in the habit of reading respectable newspapers, and therefore the presence of the disorderly persons could not be, in fairness, attributed to the fact of his having advertised the Elstow Annual Festivities. He was glad to say that the position of his house had by no means suffered by that unfortunate émeule, as our esteemed friends across the channel would say. The excellent quality of his tap received, a few years ago, the warmest encomiums of two most intelligent members of the Beds Archaeological Society; he assured the bench it had lost none of its sparkling brilliancy since that period, and was at the present time several degrees above perfection, to which any gentleman could testify upon giving him a friendly call. He was sorry that any row should have been at any time connected with his house; it was the pride of his heart to make his guests comfortable, and as last boxing day was the first time he had ever been honoured with the company of those ill behaved individuals already described, so he sincerely hoped it might be the last. The magistrates were glad to hear that the house was going on properly, and trusted there would be no recurrence of the disgraceful proceedings alluded to. Mr Tucker bowed gracefully and withdrew".

When Harry Tucker died he was replaced by Harry's son William Henry, both were remembered in the Bedfordshire Times in 1944: "When Mr Harry Tucker died in January 1898, in his 84th year, he had been landlord of the Red Lion at Elstow for over half a century. He was a man of infinite jest, shrewd, blunt, straightforward, with a rich store of anecdotes of his youth and early manhood. He was a sportsman to the backbone, and knew a good horse or a good dog with the best. When J. L. Toole, the famous actor, visited Bedford, he was greatly interested in this grand old man of Elstow. Harry Tucker had seen the world before ever he became a ‘Boniface’. Years before Queen Victoria came to the throne he made a runaway love match with fair Alice, a Scots housemaid at Lady Madelina Palmer’s establishment at Saint Mary’s Abbey in Cardington Road. The marriage was happy from the first day to the last when he laid his wife to rest in Elstow Churchyard nine years before he followed her. He had had adventure as well as romance. He had been butler to an Admiral on a man-o’-war, and had been shipwrecked".

"Of old Harry’s son, Mr William Henry Tucker, also known to his friends as ‘Harry’, I have childhood memories. My father & mother knew him well, and it was a favourite expedition of theirs to walk to Elstow via Ampthill Road and across the railway to take tea with the genial host and his wife in the garden behind the inn. Thither I sometimes accompanied them, to gaze with a little boy’s wonder at the pretty scene in the shade of the trees, and at the stalwart, keen-faced, side-whiskered landlord, with his hearty laugh and his tales of horse and hound and country life. He retired a few years before his death on Boxing Day 1906 at the age of 71, and his successor was his nephew Fred Tucker, whom I remember as a doughty Bedford & East Midlands forward. And Fred’s widow still carries on the Red Lion at Elstow".

The countywide licensing register of 1876 states that the owner was Samuel Charles Whitbread. The register of 1891 notes that the Red Lion was tied to Higgins and Sons Limited of Bedford and that for 1903 repeats this information. The premises were: "Fair, clean, apparently sanitary and the pub had one front and three side doors as wel las a side gate.

In 1927 Elstow, like the rest of Bedfordshire was valued under the terms of the Rating Valuation Act 1925; each piece of land and building in the parish was valued for rates; at the Red Lion the valuer found [DV/1/C/33] that the owners were Bedford brewers Higgins & Son and the rent was £9.6.4 per month, including 35.5 acres of land. In fact it is likely that the Southill Estate were still the owners, as was the case in 190s and that Higgins and Sons were the tenants with the landlord being the sub-tenant.

The building consisted of a tap room, public bar with billiard table, tea room ("small") cellar, kitchen and five bedrooms (2 of these letting bedrooms). Electric light was laid on. Gross takings were £15 for everything. Outside were a urinal, two garages and a garden. Overall the valuer thought it was: "Very nice – well kept Tucker family have been here over 100 years. Nice looking place. Very clean and nice inside". 

Higgins and Sons was sold in 1927 to Biggleswade brewers Wells and Winch. In 1961 that firm was taken over by Suffolk brewers Greene King. At the time of writing [2012] the Red Lion is the last pub left in Elstow.

Red Lion, Elstow Sep 2007
Red Lion Sep 2007


  • AD346/7: conveyed by Lawrence Kendall to William Gostwick: 1576;
  • AD346/9: conveyed by William Gostwicke to Robert Hawse: 1604;
  • AD346/10-11: conveyed by Robert Hawes to William Dymocke: 1608;
  • AD346/13: conveyed by William Dymocke to John Newolde: 1615;
  • W2925: marriage settlement between John Newold and Hannah Green: 1701;
  • W2926: probate of will of John Newall: 1708, proved 1715;
  • W2929: probate of will of John Newold: 1714;
  • W2936: assignment of mortgage: 1734;
  • W2931: mortgage from John Newold to Francis Walker: 1750;
  • W2934: assignment of mortgage: 1753;
  • W2937: letters of administration for John Newold: 1777;
  • W2938-2939: conveyance from John Newold to Benjamin Palmer: 1778;
  • W2941-2942: conveyance from Benjamin Palmer to James Palmer: 1780;
  • W2943-2944: conveyance from James Palmer to Benjamin Palmer: 1784;
  • W2946-2947: conveyance from James Whittingstall to Samuel Whitbread: 1796;
  • CLP13: Register of Alehouse Recognizances: 1822-1828;
  • PSB1/1: register of alehouse licences: 1829-1834;
  • Bedfordshire Times: Bedford Division Petty Sessions report on disturbance at Red Lion: 1855;
  • Z50/43/56: Photograph: c.1860;
  • Press Cuttings Vol.2 page 59: Henry & William Tucker of the Red Lion died 1898 & 1906;
  • W4040 pg. 122 Repairs & Alterations mentioned in Whitbread improvement ledger: 1890-1895;
  • PSB9/1: register of licenses: 1903-1935;
  • AD1082/4 Newspaper report of small fire in billiards room & kitchen: 1920;
  • RDBP1/487 plans for enlarging kitchen: 1921;
  • Z818/57: photograph of Red Lion with chauffeur driven Ford car, NM 3033, registered to W Chandler, Aspley Guise: 16 April 1923;
  • Z274/60: photograph of May Day procession outside the Red Lion: 1941;
  • Z274/54: photograph of barn of the Red Lion after whirlwind: c.1950s;
  • PSB9/2: register of licenses: c.1955-1995;
  • Z53/48/10-11: exterior photographs c.1960;
  • PSBW8/3: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade and North Bedfordshire Petty Sessional Divisions: 1976-1980

Licensees note that this is not a complete list. Italics indicate licensees whose beginning and/or end dates are not known:

1607: Robert Hawes;
1607: William Dymoke;
1615 John Newolde;
1701-1715: John Newold;
1715-1777: John Newold;
1786: Thomas Harvey;
1810: William Harvey;
1822 -1834: Mary Harvey;
1837-1898: Henry Tucker;
1898-1903: William Henry Tucker; [convicted 3 Jan 1903 of selling adulterated rum   and brandy - fined £5 with 26/- costs];
1903-1940: Frederick Herbert Tucker;
1945: Georgina Tucker;
1974: Thomas Henry Price;
1974-1975: David Valentine Wood and Christopher Albert Hassall;
1975-1976: David Valentine Wood and Robert Jan Nylk;
1976-1977: Robert Clive Lester-George and Daniel Blyth;
1977-1980: Norman Arthur Hards and Peter Charles Schwenk;
1980-1981: Robert Stuart Bushnell and George Francis Watson;
1981-1982: Roger Stuart Bushnell and Thomas Morris McDowell;
1982: Andrew Denham Talkington and Brian Brewster;
1982-1985: Stewart McIntosh and Nicholas Paul Shepherd;
1985: Stewart McIntosh and Richard Sunter;
1985-1986: Michael John Martin Lewis and Richard Sunter;
1986-1987: Richard Kenneth Sunter and Leslie William McKain;
1987-1988: Michael James Brown and Leslie William McKain;
1988: Peter Lindsey Smith;
1988-1989: Peter Lindsey Smith and Harry Andrew Janson;
1989-1990: Roger Douglas Stock and Harry Janson;
1990-1992: David Thompson and Victor Horne;
1992-1993: Anthony Howard Mears and Robert James Paterson;
1993-1996: Nigel Anderton and Robert James Paterson;
1996: Neville Snell and Alan John Dean